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New French art market report finds auction sales dropped 19.5% to $25.5bn in 2020

The Conseil des Ventes Volontaires concludes that China dominates global auctions, accounting for $8.6bn of sales and 35% of the worldwide market

Christie's phone bidders in Hong Kong, an increasingly important market © Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo

Calculating turnover for the art market is an inexact science, as all analysts will readily concur, but Clare McAndrew’s annual Art Basel/UBS report is far and away the most trusted.

Nevertheless, there are other reports out there, and with Covid-19 wreaking havoc in the economy, including in the art trade, it is useful to have reliable information—and differing opinions—about how things really went in 2020.

Step up the French Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (CVV) instituted by the state as a market supervisor for “voluntary” auction sales, i.e. those not carried out by court orders.

Its latest report, published today, features a section on international sales and will be available in English.

The French report covers 3,020 auction houses around the world and according to its findings, the total auction sales of art and collectibles in 2020 was €21bn ($25.5bn), a drop of 19.5% over the previous year.

The Conseil des Ventes Volontaires puts China at the top of the global auction sales market © Conseil des Ventes Volontaires

According to McAndrew, global sales dropped by 30% in 2020, for a total of $17.6bn, with private sales adding another $3.2bn. The report is based on 1,300 auction house results.

The French report also puts China in first place in 2020. It says China represented 35% of the global total with €7.1bn ($8.6bn, based on results for 345 firms), down 14.8% from 2019. In second place was the US with 32% of the market, at €6.5bn ($8bn, 944 firms) followed by the UK at €2.7bn ($3bn, 422 firms)—just 13% of the market.

Seductively presented with lots of colourful charts and infographics, the report also gives the compilers’ calculation of the results of the top auction houses in the world, based on information available online: the CVV reckons its results are accurate to within 1.5%.

Its top ten line up is as follows:

  1. Sotheby’s: €3.7bn, down 12% compared to 2019
  2. Christie’s: €2.7bn, down 38%
  3. Poly: €750m, down 28%
  4. China Guardian Auctions: €585m, down 20%
  5. Phillips: €563m, down 14%
  6. Heritage: €537m, down 3%
  7. Bonhams: €390m, down 23%
  8. Seized Assets Auctioneers US: €367m, down 7%
  9. Yongle Auction: €420m (% not available)
  10. Guangzhou Huayi: €353, up 20%